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At Napa’s human trafficking conference in March, I heard survivors tell how they were first abused by someone in their home and told nobody. What an eye-opener! If you were a 6-year-old and being abused sexually by a parent, sibling, or baby sitter, what is the likelihood you would tell someone?

If your abuser threatened to harm you, asked you to keep a secret, or hinted that your family would be angry if they knew, you might just keep it a sad, painful secret. If you wanted to tell, to whom would you go? A parent? A teacher? Another child?

Every parent should consider how to make sure that if anyone threatens your child sexually, you will know about it. After listening to the survivors, I’m a total supporter of nanny cameras. Of course, you can’t have your child under video surveillance at all times. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) offers excellent tips on protecting your kids from sexual abuse.

I sound like a broken record when I say once again it is important to have open communication with your children from an early age. If you sense your child is troubled, make time to listen to what is on her mind. Teach your kids the names of their body parts, so they have a way to ask questions and talk about concerns. Tell your kids from an early age that their private parts are private, and that if someone wants to touch or look at them or wants to show the child their own private parts, this is wrong and they must tell a trusted adult.

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We used to have a program in the classroom that taught kids as young as first grade about touch that is comfortable or not comfortable. That program is gone, so it is parents’ job to teach kids the difference. Even a tickle can become uncomfortable, and children need to know it is OK to say “no,” even to Grandpa. Then they must tell you about it. There aren’t many situations in which we encourage young kids to refuse an adult request, so be sure you let them know they will not be in trouble if they say “no” to touch that makes them uncomfortable.

What are the signs of sexual abuse? Besides the obvious results like bruises, difficulty sitting, or infections, be aware of inappropriate sexual knowledge or behavior in your child. Shrinking from physical contact, nightmares, changes in sleeping or eating habits, stomach aches, headaches, anxiety, or regression to behaviors like thumb-sucking or bed-wetting are all signs that something is wrong.

I do not mean to create anxiety where there is no need, but we must all be on the alert for those who would prey on our children. As a principal, I have known troubled students who were being abused but I had no idea until they told me much later. Long ago, I had a beloved school employee who was an abuser, and nobody could imagine it possible. We need to talk to our kids about sexuality early, we need to be alert for the signs of trouble mentioned above, and we must give our kids the confidence to say “no” and tell a trusted adult.

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Lenore Hirsch is a retired school principal living in Napa. Send questions to lenorehirsch@att.net. Please include your child’s age or grade.

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